City Projects and Platforms for Social Interaction

Wierd. I’m finally using the new format for blogger and it’s really different. I feel like I’m typing into an open void. Well…

Anyways, I’m having a few ideas flying around in my head and I’d like to pin them down on the page. So I mentioned a few days ago that I have this idea. It’s an idea for a platform for people in Madrid to share their stories about the city. I’m fascinated by public spaces in the city and projects or artworks that can change our viewpoint, ideas or experience and an online public space can offer a similar transformation. It’s a catalog of the human experience in the city, documenting places, streets, people, and events real and mythological. With a tapestry of contributions it will feel like the city is speaking through the cracks in the sidewalks.

Some existing projects that inspire:
Jeremy Dalmas: I’ve posted this before but it’s a wonderful audio journey through the mythological undercurrents of lower Manhattan.

Side note on mythology: I’m reading Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, which is an in-depth analysis of every popular belief structure on everything from everyday items to overarching concepts. For example, the chapter I just read was on the strip-tease – its origins and meanings. The book was written in 1957 so some of his references are dated, but it makes you look very closely at our world and the beliefs we take for granted. Many of the assumptions we make about our surroundings, rituals and objects are in fact a product of our society and upbringing. He has an enjoyable way of dissecting what people experience on a daily basis, and offering fascinating new meanings for many things that surrounds us.

Carolina Melis: A motion designer who has been commissioned to create an animated video to tell the story of the Ham House garden near the Thames in Richmond, UK. She will work with a historian and offer workshops on the property for people who are interested in the innovative garden design, created by Elisabeth Dysart in the 17th Century. The film will premiere on in April 2012, accompanied by site-specific installations and a program of events to educate and shift perception on this historic place.

Here is one of Melis’ recent videos on weavers in Sardinia, her home country.

The Art and Public Space research group at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam: This is a group that conducts research, organizes events and creates work and publications on the subject of the interaction of art and public space. They have done a lot of work in the Zuidas area of Amsterdam, which is the generic office park on the outskirts of the city that, like so many commercial developments, created massive empty and unused public spaces.

Media Lab Prado: in Madrid. This group studies the space where the digital, technological and social worlds intersect. There are some really confusing but interesting-looking projects on their program, and I plan on connecting with them once I have a firm grasp on the Spanish language (which is improving every day I’m happy to report).

THEN! Yesterday I discovered Jonathan Harris’ latest project. He wants to create a catalog of human experience through the contribution of various authors on his site, Cowbird. Omg if this site isn’t similar to the format I had in my head for my Madrid diary. I feel psychic. He’s been developing the site for two years, working at various residencies and locations around the world. He used Indie Maps, which is a great discovery except that they’re closed until next year. #*$@^!


Things I love about this website. The EXTRA focus on imagery, for one. Another cool detail is that the images drift slightly as you scroll down to read the story. There are capabilities to add audio with the story, here is a really interesting example of that. The stories are predominantly a kind of poetry, whether in prose form or in shortened stanzas. I can’t wait to see how this site develops. The first “saga” being recorded are the Occupy movements around the world. Ok, but how can you beat that? This may color the site a little too strongly/specifically for many contributors, but as more and more people contribute different content, I’m sure there will be greater variety of saga.

Harris worked at two locations in Iceland while he built the website, which is where the concept of the saga originated. When I visited Iceland earlier this year, I learned about the epic saga about Egil Skallagrímsson, Egil’s Saga. The tale develops over the course of Egil’s long life, covering various tales of battle, revenge, adventure and friendship. It’s considered one of the best Icelandic sagas.

So it’s quite fitting that Harris chooses to develop “sagas” with a patchwork strategy of various contributors from all corners of the globe. The sagas are accessed on the site through an easy-to-use tagging system. There are various ways to organize the info on the site actually. By diary (each writer gets a diary where all of their stories are housed), by character, by location, and then there are many individual meta tags for each story. The stories are also organized by most loved, most viewed, and other categories.

It’s a very ambitious project and has great potential. This is Harris’ first project that I know of which engages people on this universal level. Many of his other projects were artworks based on humans, more of an exploration of human experience from the objective view of the artist. This is a huge collaboration with people from all over the globe, and an opportunity for many story-tellers. Most of the social platforms that we have (Facebook, Twitter, etc) provide a space to contribute a short status update but beyond the individual blog there isn’t anything like this. Fast Company describes Cowbird as the “anti-Facebook”. The focus on slower storytelling, the unfolding of personal narratives, rather than quick updates on what’s happening in the moment certainly makes you stop and think about the current hurried state of the social space.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.